John Angell James (1785—1859)
"One person dies in prosperity and security, the very picture of good health. Another person dies in bitter poverty, never having tasted the good life. Both alike are buried in the same dust—both eaten by the same worms!" Job 21:23-26
"Seventy years are given to us! Some may even reach eighty. But even the best of these years are filled with pain and trouble—soon they disappear, and we are gone!" Psalm 90:10
"A funeral procession was coming out as Jesus approached the village gate. The boy who had died was the only son of a widow, and many mourners from the village were with her." Luke 7:12
You remember, perhaps, the incident recorded of Xerxes, the Persian monarch, that when reviewing the mighty army, with which he was then invading Greece, and which numbered more than two million men, he burst into tears upon the reflection that when far less than a century had passed, not an individual of all those multitudes would remain alive. Pity that he had not thought how many myriads of them, his mad ambition was hurrying to the grave by the devastations of war!
With like pensive—but more practical feelings—let us look over the population of our globe, and consider that, according to the average term of human life, nearly a thousand million immortal beings pass from our world to their eternal doom every thirty years. What a conqueror is death! What an evil is sin—which is the cause of this mortality! What a world is that beyond the grave, where all these countless millions assemble! And what a being is God, who is the Author of their separate existence, pursues each one through his whole individual history, and will not allow one to be left forgotten in the grave, overlooked in the judgment, or left without his just and appropriate doom in the retribution of eternity! Are you in need of subjects for reflection and useful musing? What themes are these!
Man is born to die—death is ever doing its work; and the tide of mortality is ever setting in upon the shore of eternity, bearing with it all that belong to the human species. In looking at the race of Adam only in this aspect of it, in seeing one generation follow another to the grave in endless succession, like the various vegetable and animal tribes, we are ready to ask the question of the Psalmist, "Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all men?" And truly if there were no other state of existence than this present world, there would be reason in the inquiry; for, apart from immortality, life is a dream, and man a shadow. Comparing the nobleness of his faculties, with the shortness and uncertainty of his life, and the vanity of his pursuits, he would, if this world only were the sphere of his existence, seem to cast a bad reflection upon the wisdom of his Creator, who had invested him with the powers of an angel, and yearnings after immortality, merely to mind earthly things.
But with the eternal world thrown open to our view, and its state of rewards and punishments disclosed to our faith, how momentous are that term and condition of existence which are granted us here as a discipline and probation for immortality! With far other feelings than those of contempt or complaint, I now echo the inquiry, "What is your life?" Death is an agent that works by no rule or order with which we are acquainted; sometimes passing by the aged to take the young—leaving the sickly to seize upon the healthy—removing the useful and sparing the worthless. This brings me to the subject of the present chapter—Early Death or the Review of Life in Old Age.
Let us consider the first alternative. The YOUNG man may die. Indeed the fact recorded in the text is often repeated. It is in the order of nature for the aged to die, and for the young to live—but this order is not always observed. More deviations from it take place in the human race than in any other tribe of creatures. But few of the young of the inferior animals die of disease, compared with those of the human race. Life seems to be precarious in proportion to its value. What multitudes of young people die annually in this country of consumption, that bane of English youth! It is mournful to me to recollect how many beautiful flowers I have seen thus cut down in spring. I have during my ministry followed to the grave young people in sufficient numbers, were they all still living, to form a congregation of no inconsiderable size. And what has been, still is, and ever will be, in respect of the mortality of youth.
There is always something affecting in the death of a young man. In some cases it realizes the scene described by the evangelist in one of the texts at the head of this chapter, "A funeral procession was coming out as Jesus approached the village gate. The boy who had died was the only son of a widow, and many mourners from the village were with her." Her only comfort is removed, and the last light of her tabernacle is put out; her one tie to life is cut, and she feels left alone upon a bleak and desolate shore. In other cases it is the son of wealthy parents, whose brightest prospects hung suspended upon that one precious life, the termination of which causes them to repeat in sorrow, not perhaps unmixed with complaint, the words of Job, "He destroys the hope of man."
In other instances it is the death of a youth of great promise; he had finished his education, served his apprenticeship, and with talents that excited the liveliest hopes of success, and with virtues that had already ensured admiration, was just about to step upon the stage of active life. He had formed, perhaps, a connection of chaste and tender love with one worthy of him, and with whom he expected soon to share the cup of wedded happiness; and then, when all was smiling around him, and he was returning so joyously its smiles, he is smitten down by death.
Oh, to see that noble flower, when nearly full-blown, droop its head upon its stalk, wither, and die! How many tears are shed, how many hopes are disappointed, how many sorrowful voices exclaim, "What would he not have been had he lived! When the aged man, who has lived out his term, expires, we are not surprised; we expected it, and were prepared for it. But for the young to die, for whom no fears nor dread anticipations were cherished, strikes us, not only with grief—but with astonishment!"
I will now put two cases before you.
I. The case of the young man who dies a true CHRISTIAN.He has remembered his Creator in the days of his youth, repented of sin, believed in Christ, lived in the fear of God. He has not forgotten or neglected true religion. This was his mode of life, when death came upon him. For the king of terrors pays no more respect to piety than to talent. Many a bright blossom of the church, as well as of the world, is nipped off by his relentless hand. The Christian youth has often been removed, as well as the unsaved one. In such a case, when he found he must die, he felt serious, solemn, and at first somewhat sorrowful, on looking round on all he was parting from, on seeing the mists of the dark valley rising over the landscape which he had been accustomed to survey with so much delight, and on witnessing all his prospects suddenly fading before his eyes. But when his faith came to his relief, bringing with it the "everlasting consolation" of the Gospel, and "a good hope through grace—a hope full of immortality," he recovered his tranquility, and in the prospect of that glory, honor, and eternal life, to which he believed he was going—he could then serenely look "On all he's leaving, now no longer his."
We are ready to say, what hopes are buried in his tomb, what expectations of himself, his parents, and his friends! He was permitted to see, and even to touch, many things that were attractive and alluring—but to grasp nothing. He was conducted to an eminence whence he could survey a beautiful prospect as his seemingly destined possession, and then closed his eyes in death. He had but a fragment of existence, and what made it all the more mournful was, that the fragment indicated how precious the whole would have been, had it been spared. Did he not live in vain? No, he did not live in vain. He answered the highest end of existence, as certainly as if he had lived out the threescore years and ten, or fourscore years, of man's existence; as if he had entered upon business and succeeded in obtaining wealth; as if he had married and had raised a numerous and respectable family; as if he had obtained rank, station, and influence in society, or renown. For what is the highest end of human life? The salvation of the immortal soul, a preparation and a portion for eternity, a fitness for heaven. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Now, the truly pious person has accomplished this end, has secured this object as completely, though he dies at the age of twenty, as if he had lived to that of seventy. He says on his death-bed, "True, there are some things I could have wished to live for and I feel that in not being permitted to remain and accomplish them, I am giving up some of the secondary and inferior ends of existence—but I have fulfilled the one great end of life. I have obtained the one thing needful, even the salvation of my soul. I have accomplished the loftiest and most benevolent purpose of God in sending me upon earth. I have not lived in vain. He who is made for immortality, and has everlasting ages of pure delight before him, need not regret the loss of a few years of pleasure mixed with pain! I am upon the threshold of eternity, and have attended to that which will prepare me for an eternity of bliss. I am disappointed in the hope of some little things—but I am not disappointed in the pursuit of far greater ones, and in the eternal fruition shall forget the momentary pain. I am parting from friends dear as life—but I am going to others still dearer. I am turning away from bright prospects—but infinitely brighter ones are opening upon my view. I am going away early from earth—but am going as early to heaven—and my existence in the former is shortened only that my existence in the latter may be extended. The friends whom I am leaving pity me for my early death; the angels in Paradise congratulate me on so soon leaving a valley of tears, and so early retiring from all the trials, temptations, and dangers of this scene of conflict. I am now within sight of glory, and am all but absolutely certain of being safely brought to it. Who can tell but I am taken home to escape perils which might have been too great for my strength. I therefore die without murmuring, and depart with cheerful submission, though I die in youth, since it is to be with Christ, which is far better." Happy youth! Yes, happy, to have your warfare thus early and successfully accomplished, to win the victory at the very commencement of the battle! So soon to gain and wear the crown!
I will give an illustration of this by a scene, part of which I witnessed myself. One Lord's-day, after the morning service, I was requested to visit a gentleman who was alarmingly ill, at one of our inns, on his way to Scotland. It is not my custom, for lack of strength, to visit the sick on Sabbath-days—but this case was urgent, and I went. I was introduced to the sick chamber of a remarkably fine young man, of considerable respectability, who was attended by two anxious sisters and a brother. They were bearing him home with many apprehensions that he would die on the road. My visit was one of solemn and mournful delight, for I found him a real Christian, expecting death hourly—but expecting it in the most serene and hopeful frame of mind, as his kind deliverer from the burden of the flesh. Since then I received from one of his sorrowing sisters the following account of his peaceful dismissal—"He suffered greatly the last three weeks—but was enabled to bear all with much patience, feeling it came from the hand of a loving Father. His growth in grace was very rapid—he seemed to enjoy largely the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Lord was most gracious in the support and comfort given to him. He often seemed lost in adoring wonder, contemplating the amazing love of God in Christ Jesus. Although he had much to make life to be enjoyed, he left earth without regret; indeed he said he would not like to return again to the world, except from one desire, that he might be honored in doing something for the Savior. When in much suffering, some hours before his death, it was said to him, 'Soon will this be ended, and then, happy, happy spirit!' he faintly replied, 'Happy even now.' Among his last words were, 'Peace, peace.'"
Are you, if called to die in youth, prepared to die so happy?
II.But I must now turn to a class of young people the reverse of all this—I mean those who die in youth—but die without true religion. Alas! alas! what an idea! How sad, how mournful, how dreadful! To die without true religion! To go out of the world without comfort in death, and without hope beyond it! And usually those who live without true religion, die without it. Death-bed repentances are in most cases little to be thought of, and less to be depended upon. True repentance is never too late—but late repentance is rarely true. True religion is not like the act of a man who in a shipwreck is cast into the sea, and there in the greatest alarm, as a matter of necessity, lays hold of and grasps a plank as a means of saving himself from being drowned. But, on the contrary, it resembles the conduct of one who deliberately and by choice steps on board a vessel or a boat, to convey him on some gainful or pleasurable voyage. And, therefore, those who live without true religion, I repeat, generally die without it.
Everything renders the death of a young man who dies without true religion peculiarly melancholy. He has no comfort in death; on the contrary, he has most melancholy reflections. Comfort in death can come only from true religion. The petrifying process of a stoical philosophy, or of a hardening infidelity, may, and sometimes does, so turn a man's heart into stone, that he may acquire a stupid insensibility even in death; but actual comfort can come only from true religion. It is the hope of immortality alone, which can be as a lamp in the dark valley of the shadow of death, and the man destitute of it, passes through the gloomy region, either in perturbation and mental agony, or in sullen indifference.
In this case, there are also the vexation, disappointment, and distress, of giving up life so early. A feeling of mortification springs up, akin to that of a person reluctantly called away at the commencement of a pleasurable scene which he intensely wishes to see completed, while others are left behind still to enjoy it after his departure. For a while he resists and resents the thought of dying. He clings to life with a tenacity which looks as if he could not, would not, dare not, die. He sends for his companions, who endeavor to cheer him, and persuade him he will yet do well, and he talks with them of plans of future enjoyment, when he shall recover. Disease, however, progresses, and extinguishes these hopes—and at last comes, first the dreadful fear, and then the still more dreadful certainty—that he cannot live.
Thoughts such as these are in his mind, although he may be afraid to give utterance to them in language. "It is really a very hard case to die so young. Before I have well tasted what life is, to be thus hurried out of it! To have ties so tender, and only just formed, severed! To see all my hopes so soon, and so suddenly cut off, and all my prospects shut up! To have the cup of pleasure dashed from my lips, just as I had begun to sip it, and before I had taken one full draught! To see others of my own age in full health, pursuing their schemes, and likely to live and prosper—while I am dying and going down to the grave! How cruel is inexorable fate! How I almost wish I had never been born! For what has this short life proved to me—but a disappointment? My existence has been rather a shadow than a substance—a mockery rather than a realization of hope. I have lived only for this world, which I am now leaving forever, and have made no provision nor preparation for that on which I am about to enter. I have neglected my soul and have forgotten God. I am wrecked at the commencement of the voyage of life, and shall perish, with all that belongs to me, both as a mortal and immortal creature." How distressing to meet death in such a state as this—so cold, so hopeless, so comfortless, and cheerless!
A young man dying without true religion is, according to his own views and reflections, cut off, without having seen known or enjoyed much of life. He has not had his share of life's business enjoyments and possessions. His views of his case are quite correct. He is withdrawn from the mirthful circle, and the scenes of business, as soon as he entered them. And as he had lived without true religion, and secured the possession of nothing else—he has lived in vain! His case is the very opposite of that which we have considered in the former part of this chapter. He has not sought the one great end of existence—the salvation of his immortal soul—and all the secondary and inferior ends are failing him. The supreme objects of our being, which God proposed to him, he turned away from; and the inferior ones, which he proposed to himself, are turning away from him. He lived only for this world, and the deity to which he consecrated his life has left him almost immediately after the surrender. He has had no time to gain worldly wealth or distinction, and has willfully put away from him the opportunity which he once possessed, to lay up treasures in heaven; and there he now lies, with all his hopes of life a wreck—and no hope of heaven and immortality rising up in their place.
Follow him on to eternity. No compensation is found there for what he has lost here. It is not in his case as it is in that of the religious young man, whose early death is so much taken from earth to be added to heaven; for he has not sought heaven, and has no portion there. He has lost the possession and enjoyment of both worlds at once; his few fleeting pleasures on earth are not followed with the fullness of joy which is at God's right hand, and the pleasures that are forevermore in his presence. He has been suddenly hurried away from the springs of earthly delight—and no fountain in heaven, no "river of water of life clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb," comes in to supply their place. Earth rolls from beneath his feet, and heaven stoops not to sustain and receive his sinking spirit. He rises not to glory as does the young departing Christian, exulting as he looks on the fading scenes of terrestrial beauty, and exclaiming, "I have lost nothing." It is his, on the contrary, as he resigns his spirit, mournfully to confess, "I have lost everything. I am early driven out of earth, and the portals of heaven open not to receive me."
Nor is this all; for the death of an unsaved young man reaches the climax of its distress and misery in the consideration that his early removal is so much time taken from the occupations, possessions, and pleasures of earth, to be added to the bitter pains of eternal death—the inconceivable torments of the bottomless pit. To the religious man who dies in youth, whatever he may part from—still death is gain. He gains infinitely more than he can lose; but the unsaved young man not only loses all he had, and all he hoped for on earth—but gains nothing in return but the loss of his soul's salvation with it, and has in his miserable condition the agony of contrasting what he had left on earth—with what he has gained in the dark world of hell. He will not have the poor, wretched, meager satisfaction, if such it can be called, of reflecting that on his way to perdition, he had his fill of earthly pleasure and business, and, like the rich man, lived long and fared sumptuously every day, before he descended to that place of torment. On the contrary, he will have through eternity to reflect that he received nothing in exchange for his soul, but the vices and follies of youth—and sacrificed his immortal interests for the pleasures of sin, confined, as in his case they were, to the brief season of his short life. O! how base, how insignificant a price this, for which to barter away immortal bliss! How far below even the folly and impiety of that profane man who sold his birthright for one morsel of food!
These things, young men, are submitted for your most serious consideration. Presume not upon long life. Millions die in youth every year. How do you know that you will not be included in the millions of youth who die this year? You are in robust health. What says the patriarch Job? "One dies in his full strength." Accident may crush you in a moment. Fever may seize you, and, after a few days delirium, during which no place may be found for repentance, may send you to the judgement of God. Or the seeds of consumption may already be sown and germinating in your frame. Death may have selected you for his victim; the arrow may be fitted to the string, the aim taken, and the shaft about to fly to the mark. Should you die as you now are, will yours be the death of the religious or the unsaved young man? Which? Let that question sink deeply into your heart.
Still, it must be conceded to you thatyou may live to OLD AGE—and I will now take up the other alternative, and suppose that this privilege, if privilege it may be called, will be granted to you. I will imagine that by the ordination of Providence you will number threescore years and ten, or fourscore years. You will then have to review life. Memory will naturally revert to the past. Who arrives at the top of a hill without turning to look back? Who ends a long journey without reconsidering its incidents? And who comes to old age without some thoughts of the years that have elapsed, and the scenes that have intervened between infancy and senility? Memory cannot be inoperative, unless, indeed, it has altogether perished amid the wreck of the faculties which old age sometimes produces. It will look back, it must. What kind of an old age would you like to have? How, and with what reflections and reminiscences, would you wish to spend the close of life? Would you have it bright and serene, with pleasant and peaceful recollections, and "calm as summer evenings be"—or rendered cloudy, dark, and stormy—by a painful retrospect and a troubled conscience?
I am aware that, there are some people so little given to reflection, others so stupefied by the paralyzing influence of old age, and some so fully occupied to the last with the pursuits and cares of this world, as to go out of life, even at its most advanced period, without serious consideration of either the past or the future. But what a melancholy spectacle is an unreflecting old man, a human being coming to the close of a long earthly existence, and yet not looking back with the question, "How have I lived, and what have I done with all those years which my Creator has given to me?" Such cases, however, one would hope, are comparatively few.
The retrospect of life is in every view of it a solemn affair—indeed, the most solemn except the account to be rendered at the judgment-day. Each portion of existence as it passes, every year, month, week, day, demands a retrospective survey, with the question, "How has it been spent?" How much more a whole life! Man has but one life on earth, and that one can never be recalled, whatever mistakes may have been made. Oh! what momentous interests are bound up in that one life; and then it must all be accounted for to God! What an impressive spectacle is that of an old man spending the evening of life in turning over the leaves of his history, and reading those records which are to be the ground of his condemnation or acquittal at the judgment of God, before which he must soon take his stand! How solemn a position is it to be placed where childhood, youth, manhood, and old age—with all their good or evil—will pass before, not only the memory—but the judgment and the conscience, in a series of dissolving views!
Oh! how much is comprehended in the term of only one man's lengthened existence! How many, various and momentous acts, scenes, and events, pass before the mind of the aged man, in reviewing his pilgrimage on earth. There is time, with all its scores of years, its hundreds of months, its thousands of weeks, its myriads of days, to say nothing of its minutes and moments. There are the end and purpose for which the whole was given. There are all the means of grace and the opportunities of salvation which have been granted him; the Bible, with all its doctrines and duties, promises and precepts, invitations and threatenings; thousands of Sabbaths and sermons and sacramental seasons; the instructions of his parents, the counsels of friends, the ministrations of his pastor, and the books he has read; the strivings of God's Spirit, and the remonstrances of his own conscience. There are all his opportunities of doing good and getting good neglected or improved; all he has done, and all he has not done, which he might have done. There are the sins or virtues of his childhood, youth, manhood, and old age. There is his conduct as a tradesman in getting money, whether by good or bad means. There is the manner in which the relationships of life have been discharged by him—and his behavior as a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a master, or a servant. There is the use that he has made of prosperity or adversity. There is his kindness or cruelty to others. There is the manner in which he has disappointed or fulfilled the expectations that were formed concerning him. There are the recollections of the temptations which he has thrown in the way of others, or which he has been exposed to himself, and which he has resisted or yielded to. What a landscape to look over—what a road to turn back upon—what a scene to survey—what a history to read! How much of all this is crowded into threescore years and ten!
What an employment is the review of life! To spend the long evening of old age in conference with our conscience over our past existence of probation—and our future state of retribution! Oh! to see the unrepented, unforgiven sins of threescore years and ten occupying the lengthened space, and to hear voices from within and without, saying, "You have lost your life, your soul, your God, your all!" In that situation there will be many things that will alike appear to all. All will be impressed with the brevity of life. All will echo the language of the apostle, "What is our life? It is even as a vapor that appears but a little while, and immediately vanishes away." All will look back upon a chequered scene of light and shade, though some have had more light, and some more shade than others. All will have proved, more or less, the uncertain and unsatisfying nature of what is earthly, though some have made better use than others of their knowledge. But still there is a strange and melancholy difference of character and of feeling, with which the impressive survey of life is made.
Consider theINFIDEL reviewing life—if indeed there be a man who can persist in his creed of "there is no God" until he has reached threescore years and ten. What has he to look back upon? He has cut himself off from the prospect of immortality, and reduced himself to the idea of a mere ephemeron, which having fluttered through its brief day, is about to sink into the darkness and the sleep of eternal night—into nothing. Behind him in the past is mere animalism—before him in the future is annihilation. He has lived without faith, and is dying without hope. He would have no God—and he will have no heaven. Life with him has been spent (O what a pursuit!) in persuading himself, and endeavoring to persuade others that man is only a rational brute. He has worn out a long term of years in hostility to the Bible, and in enmity to true religion. He has ever been at war with that which others have counted their richest honor and their dearest bliss. His business delight and endeavor have been to oppose the Bible, to dash the cup of consolation from the lips of the mourner, to rob the widow of her last possession, to take from youth its safest guide, and from old age its strongest prop. Inhumane purpose! Miserable man, to have grown grey in attempting to put out the light of the moral sun, and to die, after all, in despair of that result being ever accomplished; and to die, not without occasional and horrible fears, and still more horrible forebodings, that he has been fighting against God! May this dreadful retrospect never be yours!
Now contemplatethe aged man of PLEASURE. And here the picture shall be drawn from life, and shall be no imaginary portrait. You shall hear the testimony of one, by whom the world, with its fashions and its follies, its principles and its practices, has been proposed in form to Englishmen, as the proper object of their attention and imitation. At the close of life, Lord Chesterfield found that God was about to forsake him. You shall hear some of his last sentiments and expressions, which have not been hitherto, so far as I know, duly noticed and applied to their use, that of furnishing an antidote, (and they furnish a very powerful one) to the noxious poisons contained in his volumes. They are well worthy your strictest attention. 'I have seen,' said this man of the world, 'the silly rounds of business and pleasure, and have done them all. I have enjoyed all the pleasures of the world, and consequently know their futility, and do not regret their loss. I appraise them at their real value, which is, in truth, very low; whereas those who have not experienced them, always overrate them. They only see their mirthful outside, and are dazzled with their glare—but I have been behind the scenes. I have seen all the coarse pullies and dirty ropes which exhibit and move the gaudy machines—I have seen and smelt the tallow candles which illuminate the whole decoration to the astonishment and admiration of an ignorant audience. When I reflect back upon what I have seen, what I have heard, and what I have done, I can hardly persuade myself that all that frivolous hurry, and bustle, and pleasure of the world had any reality; but I look upon all that is passed as one of those romantic dreams which opium commonly brings on; and I by no means desire to repeat the nauseous dose for the sake of the ephemeral dream. Shall I tell you that I bear this melancholy situation with that meritorious resignation which most people boast of? No, for I really cannot help it. I bear it because I must bear it—whether or not. I think of nothing but killing time the best way I can, now that time has become mine enemy.'
No man ever knew the world better, or enjoyed more of its favors, than this nobleman. Yet you see in how poor, abject, and wretched a condition, at the time when he most needed help and comfort, the world left him—and he left the world. The sentences above cited from him, compose in my humble opinion, the most striking and affecting sermon upon the vanity of the world, ever yet preached to mankind. Such was the confession in his old age, of Lord Chesterfield—the epitome of fashionable life, and noble statesman.
Would you spend the evening of life thus?
You may now turn to the old age ofthe unreclaimed PRODIGAL. He who in youth settled to no business, practiced no virtue, feared not God nor regarded man—but, bursting through the restraints of parental authority, and trampling under foot the laws of prudence and morality—gave himself up to the indulgences of wickedness, and plunged into the depths of vice. Such was his youth. His manhood was little better, it had the addition of being a constant struggle against the poverty and need, which were the consequences of his misconduct. The wonder is that he lived so long; that his body could survive what he had passed through. The wintry season has come upon him, and oh, what a winter, how bleak and desolate! His circumstances, how deplorably lacking; his mind, how intolerably wretched! In some cases the poor creature is dependent upon the bounty of friends; bounty never bestowed but with reluctance, because bestowed upon one so unworthy, and rather flung at him in anger, than given with courtesy and kindness—in other instances, he is driven to the necessity of picking up, by various mean and discreditable artifices, a poor and precarious living. Destitute of all but necessaries—and having few comparatively of them—his miserable existence seems protracted for no purpose but to show what a wretched old age is made by vicious living. To him appertains the language of one of Job's friends, "His bones are full of the sins of his youth, which shall lie down with him in the dust."
But his poverty is the least part of his misery, for he has, and can have, no peace of mind. When he reflects at all, his thoughts prey, like vultures, upon his peace, and he is unable to drive them away. For him the retrospect is indeed most painful. Life with him has been worse than a blank. On what a dark and winding course has he to turn his affrighted gaze! What follies and what sins meet his eye at every turn! Childhood, youth, and manhood—are all alike distressing in retrospect. Not one bright or verdant spot presents itself to his survey in either. Oh! that some oblivious draught could drive the whole from his memory, and that, with the recollections of the past, could be extinguished the anticipations of the future.
He is as little respected by others as he respects himself. No eye beams upon him with affection, no countenance greets him with a smile, no voice addresses to him the language of respect, no heart yields to him its sympathy, no door is thrown open to welcome him. He is an outcast from society, a burden to his friends, (if he has any left,) a torment to himself, and a nuisance to the earth on which he walks. He is one of sin's most miserable slaves—one of Satan's most degraded vassals—and one of hell's most fitting inhabitants. Of all the spectacles upon earth, the most melancholy, therefore, is such a wicked old man. Look at it, my young friends, and tremble.
I next exhibitthe aged WORLDLING, the man who has lived exclusively for wealth, who has realized his wishes, and who spends the evening of his life in thinking upon his treasures—and the toil and anxiety it has cost him to acquire them. And what are his reflections? In some cases, I have no doubt, there is a feeling of gratification at his success. He traces his gradual rise and prosperity in life with gleeful delight, and compares himself with other less happy adventurers. His imagination revels in his wealth, and he thinks how much he is leaving to his heirs. Poor creature—this is all he thinks of! No gratitude to God; no recollection of money got by God's blessing, or spent for his glory; no testimony of his conscience, that he has honored God with his substance; no pleasurable reminiscences of good done with his property; no expectation of hearing God say to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant." No—nothing but the reflection that he has been what the world calls a fortunate man, and has amassed so many thousands. What an empty, meager, and wretched retrospect—that he has scraped together so much money—and will be said, whenever he leaves the world—to have died rich!
But there are others whose thoughts go deeper than all this, and who are not privileged (if the phrase may be used) with so much insensibility. Their review of life is far more painful, as their folly in 'living only to get money' comes out to their view. "I have been successful," will such a one say, "I have worked hard, even as I have lived long; and have been a thriving man. I shall certainly leave much behind—but what is it now to me? I am an old man, and must soon be a dying man. I am not permitted to remain with my treasure—nor can I take it with me. The only pleasure now left me, is to say whose it shall be when I am gone. Is it for this I have lived and labored? Have I not been too busy in getting wealth, either to enjoy it, or to employ it? Have I not laid up treasure on earth, instead of heaven? Have I not been so much taken up for myself, as to forget God and my fellow creatures? Am I prepared to give an account of this property? Have I not too much reason to ask the solemn question—What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul—or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Can I not, do I not, enter painfully into Solomon's experience, when in disgust he looked back, and seeing the sins, the follies, and pleasures of his apostasy, exclaimed—Vanity of vanities, all is vanity?"
Would you spend old age in indulging such reflections? Is this the retrospect you would have?
I present one more character looking back upon life's eventful journey, and that is,the aged CHRISTIAN. He too reviews life, and with adoring wonder, gratitude, and joy. He has no fear of the past, no dread of the future. How calm and how peaceful are his reflections! How pleasant is the retrospect, and how much more bright and glorious the prospect! "Blessed," he exclaims, "be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has led and guarded me all my life; who having been the guide of my youth, and the benefactor of my manhood—is now the support of my old age. I adore him with unutterable gratitude, for calling me early, by his grace, to be a partaker of true piety—which has been a source of happiness, a means of prosperity, and an instrument of usefulness, to me—through a long and chequered life. Through Divine goodness, I have been kept from vice and folly, and have risen to respectability and usefulness; and I owe it all to true religion. I have corrupted none by infidel principles, nor seduced any from the path of integrity by immoral conduct; but on the contrary, while I am deeply humbled that I have not better improved my opportunities and my talents, I hope I have done some good by my example, my property, and my prayers. Life with me has not been a blank, either as regards myself or others. I know that as a man, and a sinful man, I must rely for salvation exclusively upon the infinite merit of the Savior; but still I rejoice to be able to say, as a Christian man—I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of life, which God, the righteous judge, will bestow upon me in that day! Providence has given me a long life, and grace has made it a comfortable, and I hope a useful, one—and now I can lay it willingly down under the influence of a hope full of immortality." Venerable saint! "Your hoary head is a crown of glory, being found in the way of righteousness." How cloudless and majestic is your setting sun. Recollecting your holy, blameless, and useful life, all respect and many love you. The young delight to show you reverence, and the aged to manifest esteem.
My young friends, which of these characters would you be in the evening of life? Which kind of old man would you be? With which class of these reflections would you survey life from the extreme verge of your earthly existence? How would you look forward to eternity at the close of a protracted existence? With the dread of punishment for all the unpardoned sins of three score years and ten—or with the anticipation of gracious reward for all the holy actions of that long period?
Life is before you now. Ask the question seriously, solemnly, frequently, "What is my life?" Life will soon be behind you. Consider it well, its chief purpose, its brevity, its uncertainty; the smallness of its available portion for any useful end; its relative proportion to eternity; and its moral influence and bearing upon eternity. Life is probationary, and the whole of probation. All that follows belongs to retribution. Life is the causal period, and the only period of causation. Everything beyond is effect. Life is the little pivot of existence, on which turns the immense and immeasurable whole. Life is preparatory. Here we sow, here we are always sowing, and here only we sow. Hereafter we reap, and shall forever do nothing but reap. Life is an existence for which we have to account—and the judgment to come will be founded on it. Though we shall be accountable beings as long as we exist, yet it is this short prefatory portion of our existence that is to determine the character of all the rest. The actions of 'this little life' decide for eternity.
This is a consideration of unparalleled power and weight. Let it be contemplated and felt. We are acting for eternity—ages of retribution will answer to this hour of probation. How circumspectly then ought we to live! If such be the consequences of life—how frugal ought we to be of all its moments! A little care and effort now, and all will be safe forever. A little prudence and pains taking, through the short period of your earthly existence—and you will have made your fortune for immortality. How momentous then is life! How important to think of this when it is commencing! Who should not prepare to live? Life—the day of salvation—the harbinger of death—the season of grace—the subject of the judgment—the preparation for eternity—the opportunity for heaven—the pathway to hell! What a solemn exercise to review life at its close! First to ask ourselves, "What have I done with life?" And then almost immediately afterwards to hear God saying, "What have you done with life?"
Behold the Judge stands at the door!